Mental Health & Recovery

Mental Illness and the Christmas Season

Christmas is in one week! Can you believe it? All season we have heard songs and seen decorations around us declare, “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men”. Yet in a year with more than 300 mass shootings[1], perhaps you wonder, “Where is this supposed peace of God?” Where is God in a world filled with war, violence, and abuse? With daily news about worldwide injustice, it’s understandable to feel completely devoid of holiday cheer.

Those of us with mental illness often acutely feel the weight of the world. We stagger in our own darkness, completely overwhelmed by the accusatory and unforgiving thoughts in our heads. Many of us feel justified anger and bitterness about things that were done to us. We feel great pain at the injustice in the world and even our neighborhoods. All around us we see people hurting and it feels like there is no hope.

To make matters worse, most people struggling with mental illness during the holidays feel guilty about their sadness. It’s Christmas, be joyful! Ring in the New Year! Get excited for presents and ham! (Or turkey, if you must.) But mental illness doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t take a holiday from ravaging your brain.

In fact, if you’re desperate, sad, and angry, wondering when things will change, then you’re exactly where you are meant to be during this holiday season. For Christians, the month of December includes preparing for Christmas by observing Advent. Many people consider Advent to be the spiritual aspect of Christmas cheer and enthusiasm as we wait for the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. But there is another layer to Advent, one that is more historical and true.

Advent is a serious time of waiting and longing. It is a time when we connect with the historical Jews who desperately cried out to God. They too wondered why God allowed injustice to continue. Advent is a time when we connect with Psalm 88, where the writer cried out to God, desperate, overwhelmed with troubles. With the Psalmist we cry, “How long will You hide your face from me?” Yet in the Psalm, there is no nice, happy conclusion. And sometimes that’s how we feel. Sometimes we’re left barely clinging to hope, simply wondering and waiting.

Then Christmas arrives and Jesus is dropped right into the middle of the mess of life as God’s answer. God would not hide His face forever. God Himself would come to earth. Jesus came as Savior, to redeem His people. He promised that he would return again and make all things new. He promised that when He returns, injustices would be put right, relationships restored, and illnesses cured. And yes, that includes our sick, broken brains. In Advent we practice waiting, not only to connect with first century Jews, but also because we desperately wait for Jesus’ return, when he will restore all that is broken.

If you are in the middle of a battle with mental illness, angry at our world’s violence, or simply overwhelmed with the failings of daily life, then Advent and Christmas are for you. Advent and Christmas are for the hurting and the doubting. So be angry, be sad, and cry out to God! You are right where you should be this Advent season. When Christmas morning comes and other people are giddy about the gift and food rituals of the day, you can instead rest in a glimmer of hope and joy that one day the waiting will be over and the world will be made right.

[1] https://www.abc15.com/news/data/mass-shootings-in-the-us-when-where-they-have-occurred-in-2018

Featured image by Andrea Schaufler – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1423657

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